The Second Biggest Surprise of the Election Season

by Nathan L. Gonzales August 24, 2016 · 9:12 AM EDT

Donald Trump winning the Republican presidential nomination is the biggest surprise of the election season, but GOP senators’ success in primaries has to be a close second.

Two years after Pat Roberts, Thad Cochran and Mitch McConnell labored through competitive primaries, four years after Richard Lugar lost his primary in Indiana, and six years after Bob Bennett and Lisa Murkowski lost their primaries, this year’s class of GOP senators have not only survived, but thrived in intra-party contests.

Murkowski avenged her 2010 primary loss to Joe Miller with a 72-15 percent victory in Alaska last week. And she’s not the only one who has done well.

Nineteen GOP senators have been renominated so far this year and none of them fell below 61 percent. They also averaged 86 percent of the vote and a 76-point margin of victory. Even without the nine senators who ran unopposed, senators facing at least one primary challenger averaged 74 percent of the vote and a 54-point victory margin.

Three Republican senators still face primary challengers: Arizona’s John McCain and Florida’s Marco Rubio on Aug. 30 and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte on Sept. 13. They hope to continue the trend.

Of course, the winning incumbents often overwhelmed inferior and unknown opponents with huge spending advantages. But the GOP senators and the National Republican Senatorial Committee deserve some credit for doing enough to keep top-tier challengers and anti-establishment outside groups on the sidelines.

Now with most of the primaries in the rearview mirror, Republican senators can focus on more difficult general election races.